Q: Is John Kerry facing felony charges under the Logan Act?
A: No. The former secretary of state has not been charged.
Nobody has ever been convicted under the Logan Act, which bars citizens from negotiating with foreign powers on behalf of the U.S. government.
Only two people have ever been charged under it — one in 1803 and one in 1852.
But every so often the act is trotted out with speculation that someone may be charged. Most recently, there was speculation about Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s short-lived national security adviser who left the administration after it was revealed that he had communicated with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office.
Flynn was not charged under the act, although he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contact with the Russian ambassador.
Now, a dozen identical websites — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 — that operate under the name “PoliticsFocus” have posted a story claiming that former Secretary of State John Kerry is facing felony charges under the act, and other dubious websites have copied the story.
The websites refer to coverage of a recent controversy in which the Israeli press reported that Kerry spoke to Hussein Agha, a friend of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and through that discussion, urged the leader to “stay strong in his spirit and play for time” in dealing with the Trump administration.
Facebook users flagged the PoliticsFocus story as potentially false.
While it’s true that newspapers have published reports of Kerry’s meeting with Agha, a spokesman for Kerry has denied that he made any anti-Trump remarks.
Beyond that, the headline on the PoliticsFocus story says: “BREAKING: Major Announcement Out Of The White House — John Kerry Facing Felony Charges.” That’s false. There was no announcement from the White House, and no charges have been filed against Kerry.
The websites that posted the story have hundreds of similarly false or misleading headlines. That’s typical for dubious websites that claim to be news outlets. What’s unusual is that when they first started publishing, in July 2017, the stories and headlines were aimed at appealing to liberals — such as “Egomaniac Trump Wants To Have Military Parade In His Honor On Independence Day” and “Trump’s Treatment Of Melania Is So Disgusting The Entire Nation Is In Shock [VIDEO].”
But, starting in October, they flipped and started running stories with headlines such as, “Trump Just Got a HUGE Supreme Court Victory — Media Silent” and “Former US Atty: Obama Committed Crime of ‘UNBELIEVABLE Dimensions’ Against Trump.”
There is no information about the owners, publishers or authors of these websites — which is a red flag that often signifies an unreliable source of news.
Each of the sites is registered through a company that hides the identity and location of the owner.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label viral fake news stories flagged by readers on the social media network.
Seitzinger, Michael. “Conducting Foreign Relations Without Authority: The Logan Act.” Congressional Research Service. 11 Mar 2015.
Duda, Jeremy. “A Foreign Affair.” History Today. 13 Jun 2017.
Phillips, Amber. “Did Michael Flynn just admit to violating the Logan Act? And what is the Logan Act?” The Washington Post. 1 Dec 2017.
Shear, Michael and Goldman, Adam. “Michael Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to the F.B.I. and Will Cooperate With Russia Inquiry.” The New York Times. 1 Dec 2017.
United States v. Flynn. 1:17-cr-00232. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. 1 Dec 2017.
“BREAKING: Major Announcement Out Of The White House — John Kerry Facing Felony Charges.” PoliticsFocus.com. 29 Jan 2018
Caspit, Ben. “Kerry to Abbas confidante: ‘Stay strong and do not give in to Trump.’” The Jerusalem Post. 24 Jan 2018.
Singman, Brooke. “John Kerry rep pushes back on report of incendiary anti-Trump comments to Abbas associate.” Fox News. 26 Jan 2018.
Kiely, Eugene and Robertson, Lori. “How to Spot Fake News.” FactCheck.org. 18 Nov 2016.